Jessie Ware interview: 'I sing like a dolphin!'
- 14 July 2014
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Jessie Ware broke through in 2012 with the sumptuous soul of her debut album Devotion. As she gears up to release her second record, the singer tells the BBC about gaining confidence and her "unique" new vocal style.
She's been hailed as Britain's newest diva, but Jessie Ware hasn't picked up any airs and graces.
"I'm sorry - I'm with my shopping," she cackles as she answers the phone. "I just went to Lidl. They do the best smoked salmon and rye bread."
The 28-year-old is at home in south London, preparing for two life-changing events - the release of her second album and, more importantly, her marriage to her childhood sweetheart, Sam.
So is the low calorie diet in preparation for the stage or the aisle?
"I guess I'm trying not to look like a heifer at the wedding," she laughs, "but it's kind of too late.
"Anyway, we're getting married on an island, so he's going to be stuck. If he doesn't want to get married to me, I'll just go and get the Greeks to go and find him."
Funnily enough, it was a wedding that inspired Ware's signature song. A fight at a wedding to be precise - after her best friend, Sara, threw a cake in her face. Ware retaliated with a trifle.
After they patched things up, she wrote Wildest Moments, a slow-motion soul celebration of their friendship.
It's also given her an idea for her own ceremony this August.
"I'm really going to try to rile some people up and see if I can get some content for album three," she says.
"I can't be too happy otherwise I'll make a very boring domesticated album."
The daughter of former Panorama reporter John, Jessica Lois Ware never intended to be a singer.
Indeed, the south Londoner initially followed in her father's footsteps, training as a journalist after graduating in English literature from Sussex University.
She took a job at the Jewish Chronicle, then segued into TV working alongside Erika Leonard who later, as EL James, penned Fifty Shades of Grey.
It was only when her old school friend Jack Penate invited her on tour as a backing singer that her career took off. Penate's bassist later hooked her up with dubstep producer SBTRKT and their 2010 collaboration, Nervous, led to a record deal.
Confronted with a solo career, Ware admits she "had a bit of a freak-out". Early, unsatisfactory studio sessions shook her nerves and it wasn't until she paired up with producer and guitarist Dave Okumu that she finally hit her stride.
The result was Devotion, an understated collection of twilight R&B and future soul. It went gold in the UK, earning Ware both Brit award and Mercury Prize nominations.
Second time around "it was a bit less scary," the singer says. "I had a bit of confidence and a bit more experience. I didn't have that on the first album so I was petrified."
The first single is Tough Love, an unguarded, intimate ballad which finds Ware experimenting with the tonality of her voice.
Or, to use her words: "I thought it would be great to show people what it's like when I attempt to sing like a dolphin."
"It wasn't meant to be that high," she explains. "I originally sang it lower - but I had the rhythm and the words and the melody and Benny, one of the producers, said [pleading voice] 'Why don't you try it the octave higher?'
"I was like, 'oh no, don't make me do that'. And I tried it. Now I'm dreading - dreading - singing that one live!"
Her producer made a wise call. Pushing Ware to the limits of her vocal register gives Tough Love a vulnerability it would have lacked in full-on diva mode.
Ware was so pleased with the song, recorded over a year ago, it became the touchstone for her second album.
"It wasn't one of those 'let's write a hit' songs," she says. "It was a mood in the room - quite a dozy, lazy mood. It's the song we've always gone back to as dictating the rest of the record."
So fans shouldn't expect a sudden turn towards thumping club bangers?
"I'm no good at upbeat, I'm not going to lie," she says. "I need really depressing, mid-tempo, high-pitched stuff.
"I don't think it's as melancholy as the first record. There's definitely some up-tempo moments, but I think it's still in the same vein as Devotion. But I think it's got a bit more playfulness to it."
The album also reflects how much more in demand Ware has become since her debut, featuring collaborations with Ed Sheeran and R&B star Miguel - who appears on "a fun, sexy tune" called Kind Of Sometimes Maybe.
The entire album, meanwhile, was produced by mysterious electro-soul duo BenZel.
The team appeared out of nowhere in 2012, releasing an achingly-cool cover of Brownstone's '90s R&B classic If You Love Me - featuring Ware on vocals.
They were described as "two teenage girls who hail from Osaka, Japan, but live in New York" - a facade that was maintained until a fortnight ago, when Ware let slip they were, in fact, a side project of record producers Benny Blanco (Katy Perry, Rihanna) and Two Inch Punch (Justin Timberlake, Sam Smith).
"I thought for a while they were going to make me keep this up - that I'd have to say, 'yeah, I go over to Japan and they work with me on their school holidays'," laughs the singer. "But no, they let me reveal it."
The album is ready to go now, but it won't come out until Ware has tied the knot.
"I wanted the album release to come first and then wedding. Now it's the other way round and I think that's probably better.
"I'm basically going to get married then sod off for a year to do promotion. Which probably suits my husband-to-be great."
Tough Love is released by PMR Records on 4 August.